BOONE, N.C. — Dr. Lubna Nafees uses work time to surf social media. She’s not playing around, though: This assistant professor in Appalachian State University’s Department of Marketing and Supply Chain Management is studying how social media influencers shape the attitudes, perceptions and buying habits of consumers.
Nafees came to App State in 2016 from the Institute of Management Technology in Ghaziabad, India, to teach digital marketing. In fall 2019, she worked with her department chair in launching a digital marketing concentration — a program that increased 200% in student enrollments in fall 2020.
Nafees said, “Social media influencers have taken off in a big way, and we are opening up new avenues for research. We are able to share our research with companies, demonstrating the impact of influencers on their brands. Plus, in our classrooms, we’re developing future digital media marketers — positions that are in high demand right now.”
A social media influencer is a third-party endorser who has built a following — usually more than 10,000 users — due to their knowledge, authority, celebrity status or expertise on a topic. Nafees said, “They are usually authentic and transparent and give the impression they have the best interest of their followers in mind.”
In one of her research papers, Nafees posits influencers — especially those with a large number of followers — play a significant role in promoting certain brands or actions. For example, she cited how the U.S. government has used influencers during the COVID-19 pandemic to promote the wearing of face coverings, safe distancing practices and the safety of COVID vaccines.
However, social media influencers can have a negative impact, Nafees said, when their motivation for posting is driven by monetization of their content or for building “likes.” There is even a saying, “Doing it for the gram” — a phrase referring to actions performed for the sole purpose of posting on Instagram, a visually driven, high-engagement social media platform.
“Influencers can negatively impact local communities and national parks, for instance, when they visit in droves and venture into protected spaces that are off limits, just to take a picture for Instagram,” Nafees said, citing a study she co-wrote on the influence of citizen-consumers in the public lands marketing system.
Her teaching and research interests “go hand in hand,” she said, as she includes her students in performing research and uses the process and findings to make classroom content more engaging and relevant.
“The faculty in our department also want our students to be ethical and responsible,” she said. “When we design our marketing classes, we commit to diversity and inclusion, and we emphasize sustainable consumption, not just profit. Those key values play a role in all of our class discussions.”
Social media reshapes stereotypes
In one of her research projects, Nafees collaborated with Walker College of Business colleague Dr. Pia Albinsson and faculty from other universities to examine how Instagram is used to break stereotypes of women of South Asian descent.
Nafees said, “We see how young women of this South Asian minority group in Western cultures are rallying on the Instagram platform to present different aspects of their identity and lives. They are challenging stereotypes defined by their culture or by the movies and media, and they are building confidence and pride in their identity.”
Media and marketing decision-makers have taken note of the influence of social media groups, according to Nafees. “We have observed how South Asian women are becoming significant to Western companies, who are revising marketing to be more inclusive,” she said.
What do you think?
Share your feedback on this story.
About the Department of Marketing and Supply Chain Management
At Appalachian State University, students in the Walker College of Business’ Department of Marketing and Supply Chain Management learn to drive industry initiatives that develop customer satisfaction and retention, contribute to company profits and build connections with suppliers, distributors and the community. Students majoring in marketing may select a concentration in general marketing, digital marketing or sales. Students majoring in supply chain management (SCM) learn about logistics, operations, strategic sourcing, process improvement strategies and supply chain technologies, enabling them to compete in the global marketplace and help future employers reduce costs, improve profits and expand their markets. Learn more at https://marketing.appstate.edu.
About the Walker College of Business
The Walker College of Business at Appalachian State University delivers transformational educational experiences that prepare and inspire students to be ethical, innovative and engaged business leaders who positively impact our community, both locally and globally. The college places emphasis on international experiences, sustainable business practices, entrepreneurial programs and real-world applications with industry. Enrolling approximately 3,000 undergraduates in 10 majors and 175 graduate students in three master's programs, the Walker College is accredited by AACSB International – the premier global accrediting body for schools of business. Learn more at https://business.appstate.edu.
About Appalachian State University
As the premier public undergraduate institution in the state of North Carolina, Appalachian State University prepares students to lead purposeful lives as global citizens who understand and engage their responsibilities in creating a sustainable future for all. The Appalachian Experience promotes a spirit of inclusion that brings people together in inspiring ways to acquire and create knowledge, to grow holistically, to act with passion and determination, and to embrace diversity and difference. Located in the Blue Ridge Mountains, Appalachian is one of 17 campuses in the University of North Carolina System. Appalachian enrolls more than 20,000 students, has a low student-to-faculty ratio and offers more than 150 undergraduate and graduate majors.